[Geneva Conventions]King George's Writ of Torture. Today Senate Republicans,
with probably the support of a few scared Dems, will approve
Bush's writ of torture. There is no way to stop the legislation or the GOP's election-year profiteering off it--Defeatocrats and US soldiers alike will lose. Nevertheless, there are reasons why this will backfire catastrophically, and I'd at least like to go on record as having stood against the bill.Moral Failures
King George lives in a future of his own making, where laws can be subverted by executive might and legislative collusion, obviating legal debates. But the greatest failure of this legislation is a moral one: no state has the right, by law or God, to torture a human being.
Civilized people understood this and codified their agreement in the Geneva Conventions.
The cliches here are many, so I'll skip to the most cliched, and sadly, the most accurate. On 9/11, many Americans pledged that the "terrorists would not defeat us." So long as the US maintained its fidelity to the constitution, laws, and moral compass, we could not be defeated, no matter how many times deranged terrorists blew up our cities. But the moment we sacrificed our laws, sold our citizens down the river (see "legal failures" below), and adopted the methods of the terrorists, we were defeated. With his writ of torture, King George has accomplished what no terrorist could.Strategic Failures
It is widely recognized that torture is at best inefficient. For every piece of actual information you get, you get a lot of misinformation. But of course, there's that one-in-a-million case where the US actually detains a real terrorist with real information about a real, imminent attack, and in this hypothetical case--incessantly promoted by Bush--panicked Americans say: "Put the dogs on the bastard."
This is a doubly fake hypothesis. First, the likelihood of it arising is camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle remote (I'm as likely to win the Nobel in literature). But it also assumes that the value of the misinformation is nil--garbage into the dustbin of intelligence. But we already know how dangerous false information is.
We wouldn't be in Iraq except for the justifications offered by CIA misinformation. So it's far from nil. More likely, the US will become a titanic dog chasing its military-industrial tail around the Middle East, indiscriminately killing Muslims and ginning up anti-US hatred.Let us not ignore the danger torturing detainees puts our soldiers in.
Military leaders--former generals serving under Bush, Colin Powell, John McCain, et. al.--oppose torture for exactly this reason. The authors of the writ of torture (the bulk of whom have never served) ask: but won't Hezbollah torture us, anyway? Sane generals respond: we have military personnel scattered across the globe, and will fight wars for decades hence. We fight more than terrorists; reinterpret Geneva, and every unstable government in the world reinterprets Geneva.Legal Failures
I have no confidence that Smilin' Sam Alito and Pretty Boy Roberts will overturn this law and stay Executive over-reach, but the rest of the law-abiding world is not so well-funded by GOP donors--nor as sanguine about the goodwill of CIA "interregators." As a matter of established US law--not to say our judicial activists aren't about to re-establish things--this legislation is, well, call it "rogue." As the Times
- Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment.
- Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.
- Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable ... and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.
- Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.
- Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.
Most of our lives won't change much day to day. We'll still buy our Stumptown coffee (what do you call it outside Portland--Star-something?) and chat about the Seahawks. We'll go to work and pick our kids up from school and watch Lost
on Wednesday nights. But with this legislation, things change on a seismic level deep beneath our feet--and profoundly. The Senate, in endorsing this law, signs away rights to the President neither he nor they have to give. They weaken the Constitution and the foundation of law, and cede power to the President the founders tried dearly to prevent. Today's vote, despite appearances, looks like something other than democracy in action. Poor Thomas Jefferson spins in his grave.
Put the flag at half-mast; it's a dark day in America today.